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Each year, school districts roll out more tech to their students. With the additional online tools, comes new opportunities for learning and for risks. Risks that could be harmful for students and put accountability for blocking inappropriate material back on the districts’ shoulders.
What happens when students receive laptops from their school, but then use it just for gaming, watching movies, and accessing non-educational sites? All of those which are definitely not the purpose behind school-issued devices. How can schools address this before students even receive their devices?
Three words—Acceptable Use Policy, or AUP for short. An AUP is an agreement between the student and the district designed to keep students safe online. This agreement allows them to explore the digital world as part of their education, instead of accessing inappropriate or harmful sites, such as bullying, school violence, pornography, etc.
The CoSN guide on AUPs defines the two main components as:
- Protecting students from harmful content on the Internet, and regulating their use of the Internet to not harm or interfere with other students.
- Providing students with access to digital media that supports engaged learning.
With AUPs, students accept responsibility of their online and digital device usage.
Key Components of an AUP
It’s important to know what should be part of your AUP as you begin to write one. The National Education Association is often quoted for suggesting to include these six elements for an AUP:
- Introduction: Why the policy is needed, goals, and an explanation of the process for creating this AUP.
- Definitions: Key words used in the AUP.
- Policy Statement: Explains which computer services are covered by the AUP and the circumstances students can use those services (i.e. students must complete a “computer responsibility” course before accessing these services).
- Acceptable Uses: Define appropriate student use of the computer, such as “educational purposes”.
- Unacceptable Uses: Gives clear, specific examples of what constitutes unacceptable use.
- Violations/Sanctions: Tells students how to report AUP violations and defines how violations will be handled (typically the same as the school’s general student disciplinary code).
Boston Public Schools (BPS) created an AUP for their 57,000 students across 128 schools. They took a student-centered approach, and enlisted the help of high schoolers to make it easier for students to understand, especially those in younger grades. In this example, BPS high schoolers created podcasts to deliver the AUP message. (All of their AUP materials can be found here.)
When students sign an AUP, they need to understand what it actually means, which is why this age-appropriate model is critical.
Here are a few additional tips when creating an AUP:
- Split up the AUP by grade level or group of grades (i.e. K-6 and 8-12). Students in younger grades typically need stricter filtering than older students. It also allows the school district to simplify the agreement, making it easier for younger students to understand.
- Write the AUP in multiple languages to make it easy for students and parents to comprehend before signing.
- Revisit your AUP often to ensure it is current as the digital landscape continues to change.
Arlington Public Schools provides another example of a simple network and computer AUP, with five agreement statements and check boxes.
Enforcing an AUP
The work is not done just because a student and their parent or guardian has signed the AUP. This next section lays out ways to enforce an AUP both on campus and off. If students bring home school-issued devices, then they need to continue to follow the set policy even off campus.
As stated earlier, any violations of the AUP should be handled by the school’s general student disciplinary code.
If school districts receive E-Rate funding, they must filter or block obscene visuals or any harmful materials under the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Creating and maintaining an AUP helps school districts ensure they meet CIPA compliance.
School districts have filtering policies for the Internet and some filter on the school-issued devices directly. And most schools, regardless of if they need to be CIPA-compliant or not, focus on teaching students how to be good digital citizens.
A mobile device management (MDM) solution also helps schools and districts add another layer of security to their filtering, and keeps students aligned with their AUP. Additionally an MDM solution helps with:
- Website and keyword filtering.
- Device oversight to ensure students comply with the AUP.
- Whitelist and blacklist applications and websites.
- Notifying IT personnel when an inappropriate application has been installed.
- Ensuring safe search while on campus, or off.
When a student signs an AUP, these policies must extend beyond the school day when using school-issued devices to keep students safe online.
School-issued devices should be used for school. But it can be hard to know how students use these devices without teacher supervision. And it’s even more difficult for students without Internet access at home to get the most out of these devices.
Kajeet provides CIPA-compliant, education-only filters for students who connect to Wi-Fi with a Kajeet SmartSpot® device. Through the Kajeet Sentinel® cloud portal, administrators can monitor which sites students visit, or try to visit.
On campus or not, school-issued devices or personal devices, AUPs are more than just a policy and a piece of paper for students to sign. It encourages good digital citizenship, and students taking responsibility for their use and exploration of the Internet. An AUP will keep all schools in a district on the same page with the level of filtering and student responsibility.